Elinore P. Stewart’s “Letters of a Woman Homesteader” continued:
August 15, 1910
Dear Mrs. Coney,—
… Grandma Edmonson’s birthday is the 30th of May, and Mrs. O’Shaughnessy suggested that we give her a party. I had never seen Grandma, but because of something that happened in her family years ago which a few narrow-heads whom it didn’t concern in the least cannot forgive or forget, I had heard much of her. The family consists of Grandma, Grandpa, and little Cora Belle, who is the sweetest little bud that ever bloomed upon the twigs of folly.
The Edmonsons had only one child, a daughter, who was to have married a man whom her parents objected to solely because he was a sheep-man, while their sympathies were with the cattle-men, although they owned only a small bunch. To gain their consent the young man closed out his interest in sheep, at a loss, filed on a splendid piece of land near them, and built a little home for the girl he loved. Before they could get to town to be married Grandpa was stricken with rheumatism. Grandma was already almost past going on with it, so they postponed the marriage, and as that winter was particularly severe, the young man took charge of the Edmonson stock and kept them from starving. As soon as he was able he went for the license.
Mrs. O’Shaughnessy and a neighbor were hunting some cattle that had wandered away and found the poor fellow shot in the back. He was not yet dead and told them it was urgently necessary for them to hurry him to the Edmonsons’ and to get some one to perform the marriage ceremony as quickly as possible, for he could not live long. They told him such haste meant quicker death because he would bleed more; but he insisted, so they got a wagon and hurried all they could. But they could not outrun death. When he knew he could not live to reach home, he asked them to witness all he said. Everything he possessed he left to the girl he was to have married, and said he was the father of the little child that was to come. He begged them to befriend the poor girl he had to leave in such a condition, and to take the marriage license as evidence that he had tried to do right. The wagon was stopped so the jolting would not make death any harder, and there in the shadow of the great twin buttes he died.
They took the body to the little home he had made, and Mrs. O’Shaughnessy went to the Edmonsons’ to do what she could there. Poor Cora Jane didn’t know how terrible a thing wounded pride is. She told her parents her misdeeds. They couldn’t see that they were in any way to blame. They seemed to care nothing for her terrible sorrow nor for her weakened condition. All they could think of was that the child they had almost worshiped had disgraced them; so they told her to go.
Mrs. O’Shaughnessy took her to the home that had been prepared for her, where the poor body lay. Some way they got through those dark days, and then began the waiting for the little one to come. Poor Cora Jane said she would die then, and that she wanted to die, but she wanted the baby to know it was loved,—she wanted to leave something that should speak of that love when the child should come to understanding. So Mrs. O’Shaughnessy said they would make all its little clothes with every care, and they should tell of the love. Mrs. O’Shaughnessy is the daintiest needleworker I have ever seen; she was taught by the nuns at St. Catherine’s in the “ould country.” She was all patience with poor, unskilled Cora Jane, and the little outfit that was finally finished was dainty enough for a fairy. Little Cora Belle is so proud of it.
At last the time came and Mrs. O’Shaughnessy went after the parents. Long before, they had repented and were only too glad to go. The poor mother lived one day and night after the baby came. She laid the tiny thing in her mother’s arms and told them to call her Cora Belle. She told them she gave them a pure little daughter in place of the sinful one they had lost.
That was almost twelve years ago, and the Edmonsons have lived in the new house all this time. The deed to the place was made out to Cora Belle, and her grandfather is her guardian….
If you traveled due north from my home, after about nine hours’ ride you would come into an open space in the butte lands, and away between two buttes you would see the glimmer of blue water. As you drew nearer you would be able to see the fringe of willows around the lake, and presently a low, red-roofed house with corrals and stables. You would see long lines of “buck” fence, a flock of sheep near by, and cattle scattered about feeding. This is Cora Belle’s home. On the long, low porch you would see two old folks rocking. The man is small, and has rheumatism in his legs and feet so badly that he can barely hobble. The old lady is large and fat, and is also afflicted with rheumatism, but has it in her arms and shoulders. They are both cheerful and hopeful, and you would get a cordial welcome….
When you saw Cora Belle you would see a stout, square-built little figure with long flaxen braids, a pair of beautiful brown eyes and the longest and whitest lashes you ever saw, a straight nose, a short upper lip, a broad, full forehead,—the whole face, neither pretty nor ugly, plentifully sown with the brownest freckles. She is very truly the head of the family, doing all the housework and looking after the stock, winter and summer, entirely by herself. Three years ago she took things into her own hands, and since that time has managed altogether. Mrs. O’Shaughnessy, however, tells her what to do.
The sheep, forty in number, are the result of her individual efforts. Mrs. O’Shaughnessy told her there was more money in raising lambs than in raising chickens, so she quit the chickens as a business and went to some of the big sheep-men and got permission to take the “dogie” lambs, which they are glad to give away. She had plenty of cows, so she milked cows and fed lambs all day long all last year. This year she has forty head of nice sheep worth four dollars each, and she doesn’t have to feed them the year round as she would chickens, and the wolves are no worse to kill sheep than they are to kill chickens. When shearing-time came she went to a sheep-man and told him she would help cook for his men one week if he would have her sheep sheared with his. She said her work was worth three dollars, that is what one man would get a day shearing, and he could easily shear her sheep in one day. That is how she got her sheep sheared. The man had her wool hauled to town with his, sold it for her, and it brought sixty dollars. She took her money to Mrs. O’Shaughnessy. She wanted some supplies ordered before she went home, because, as she gravely said, “the rheumatiz would get all the money she had left when she got home,”—meaning that her grandparents would spend what remained for medicine.
The poor old grandparents read all the time of wonderful cures that different dopes accomplish, and they spend every nickel they can get their hands on for nostrums. They try everything they read of, and have to buy it by the case,—horrid patent stuff! They have rolls of testimonials and believe every word, so they keep on trying and hoping. When there is any money they each order whatever medicine they want to try. If Mrs. Edmonson’s doesn’t seem to help her, Grandpa takes it and she takes his,—that is their idea of economy. They would spend hours telling you about their different remedies and would offer you spoonful after spoonful of vile-looking liquid, and be mildly grieved when you refused to take it. Grandma’s hands are so bent and twisted that she can’t sew, so dear old Grandpa tries to do it.
Mrs. O’Shaughnessy told me that she helped out when she could. Three years ago she made them all a complete outfit, but the “rheumatiz” has been getting all the spare money since then, so there has been nothing to sew. A peddler sold them a piece of gingham which they made up for Cora Belle. It was broad pink and white stripes, and they wanted some style to “Cory’s” clothes, so they cut a gored skirt. But they had no pattern and made the gores by folding a width of the goods biasly and cutting it that way. It was put together with no regard to matching the stripes, and a bias seam came in the center behind, but they put no stay in the seam and the result was the most outrageous affair imaginable.
Well, we had a large room almost empty and Mr. Stewart liked the idea of a party, so Mrs. Louderer, Mrs. O’Shaughnessy, and myself planned for the event. It was to be a sewing-bee, a few good neighbors invited, and all to sew for Grandma…. So Mrs. O’Shaughnessy went to Grandma’s and got all the material she had to make up. I had saved some sugar-bags and some flour-bags. I knew Cora Belle needed underwear, so I made her some little petticoats of the larger bags and some drawers of the smaller. I had a small piece of white lawn that I had no use for, and of that I made a dear little sunbonnet with a narrow edging of lace around, and also made a gingham bonnet for her. Two days before the time, came Mrs. Louderer, laden with bundles, and Mrs. O’Shaughnessy, also laden. We had all been thinking of Cora Belle. Mr. Stewart had sent by mail for her a pair of sandals for everyday wear and a nice pair of shoes, also some stockings. Mrs. Louderer brought cloth for three dresses of heavy Dutch calico, and gingham for three aprons. She made them herself and she sews so carefully. She had bought patterns and the little dresses were stylishly made, as well as well made. Mrs. O’Shaughnessy brought a piece of crossbar with a tiny forget-me-not polka dot, and also had goods and embroidery for a suit of underwear. My own poor efforts were already completed when the rest came, so I was free to help them.
Late in the afternoon of the 29th a funny something showed up. Fancy a squeaky, rickety old wagon without a vestige of paint. The tires had come off and had been “set” at home; that is done by heating the tires red-hot and having the rims of the wheels covered with several layers of burlap, or other old rags, well wet; then the red-hot tire is put on and water hurriedly poured on to shrink the iron and to keep the burlap from blazing. Well, whoever had set Cora Belle’s tires had forgotten to cut away the surplus burlap, so all the ragtags were merrily waving in the breeze.
Cora Belle’s team would bring a smile to the soberest face alive. Sheba is a tall, lanky old mare. Once she was bay in color, but the years have added gray hair until now she is roan. Being so long-legged she strides along at an amazing pace which her mate, Balaam, a little donkey, finds it hard to keep up with. Balaam, like Sheba, is full of years. Once his glossy brown coat was the pride of some Mexican’s heart, but time has added to his color also, and now he is blue. His eyes are sunken and dim, his ears no longer stand up in true donkey style, but droop dejectedly. He has to trot his best to keep up with Sheba’s slowest stride. About every three miles he balks, but little Cora Belle doesn’t call it balking, she says Balaam has stopped to rest, and they sit and wait till he is ready to trot along again. That is the kind of layout which drew up before our door that evening. Cora Belle was driving and she wore her wonderful pink dress which hung down in a peak behind, fully six inches longer than anywhere else. The poor child had no shoes. The winter had tried the last pair to their utmost endurance and the “rheumatiz” had long since got the last dollar, so she came with her chubby little sunburned legs bare. Her poor little scarred feet were clean, her toe-nails full of nicks almost into the quick, broken against rocks when she had been herding her sheep. In the back of the wagon, flat on the bottom, sat Grandma and Grandpa, such bundles of coats and blankets I can’t describe. After a great deal of trouble we got them unloaded and into the house. Then Mrs. Louderer entertained them while Mrs. O’Shaughnessy and I prepared supper and got a bath ready for Cora Belle. We had a T-bone steak, mashed potatoes, hominy, hot biscuits and butter, and stewed prunes. Their long ride had made them hungry and I know they enjoyed their meal.
After supper Cora Belle and I washed the dishes while Mrs. O’Shaughnessy laid out the little clothes. Cora Belle’s clothes were to be a surprise. The postmistress here also keeps a small store and has ribbon, and when she heard of our plans from Mr. Stewart she sent up a couple of pairs of hair-ribbon for Cora Belle. Soon Mrs. O’Shaughnessy called us, and Cora Belle and I went into the bedroom where she was. I wish you could have seen that child! Poor little neglected thing, she began to cry. She said, “They ain’t for me, I know they ain’t. Why, it ain’t my birthday, it’s Granny’s.” Nevertheless, she had her arms full of them and was clutching them so tightly with her work-worn little hands that we couldn’t get them. She sobbed so deeply that Grandma heard her and became alarmed. She hobbled to the door and pounded with her poor twisted hands, calling all the while, “Cory, Cory Belle, what ails you?” She got so excited that I opened the door, but Cora Belle told her to go away. She said, “They ain’tfor you, Granny, and they ain’t for me either.” …
People here observe Decoration Day faithfully, and Cora Belle had brought half a wagon-load of iris, which grows wild here. Next morning we were all up early, but Cora Belle’s flowers had wilted and she had to gather more, but we all hurried and helped. She said as she was going to see her mother she wanted to wear her prettiest dress, so Gale and Mrs. O’Shaughnessy helped her to get ready. The cemetery is only about two miles away, so we were all down quite early. We were obliged to hurry because others were coming to help sew. Cora Belle went at once to the graves where her parents lie side by side, and began talking to her mother just as though she saw her. “You didn’t know me, did you, Mother, with my pretty new things? But I am your little girl, Mamma. I am your little Cora Belle.” After she had talked and had turned every way like a proud little bird, she went to work. And, oh, how fast she worked! Both graves were first completely covered with pine boughs. It looked like sod, so closely were the little twigs laid. Next she broke the stems off the iris and scattered the blossoms over, and the effect was very beautiful. Then we hurried home and everybody got busy. The men took Grandpa off to another part of the ranch where they were fanning oats to plant, and kept him all day. That was good for him because then he could be with the men all day and he so seldom has a chance to be with men. Several ladies came and they all made themselves at home and worked like beavers, and we all had a fine time….
Sedalia was present and almost caused a riot. She says she likes unusual words because they lend distinction to conversation. Well, they do—sometimes. There was another lady present whose children are very gifted musically, but who have the bad name of taking what they want without asking. The mother can neither read nor write, and she is very sensitive about the bad name her children have. While we were all busy some one made a remark about how smart these children were. Sedalia thought that a good time to get in a big word, so she said, “Yes, I have always said Lula was a progeny.” Mrs. Hall didn’t know what she meant and thought that she was casting reflections on her child’s honesty, so with her face scarlet and her eyes blazing she said, “Sedalia Lane, I won’t allow you nor nobody else to say my child is a progeny. You can take that back or I will slap you peaked.” Sedalia took it back in a hurry, so I guess little Lula Hall is not a progeny.
Every one left about four except Gale, Mrs. O’Shaughnessy, Mrs. Louderer, and the Edmonsons. They had farthest to go, so they stayed over night again. We worked until ten o’clock that night over Grandma’s clothes, but everything was thoroughly finished. Every button was on, every thread-end knotted and clipped, and some tired workers lay down to rest, as did a very happy child and a very thankful old lady.
Every one got away by ten o’clock the next morning. The last I saw of little Cora Belle was when they had reached the top of a long slope and Balaam had “stopped to rest.” The breeze from the south was playfully fluttering the rags on the wheels. Presently I heard a long “hee-haw, hee-haw,” and I knew Balaam had rested and had started.
I have been a very busy woman since I began this letter to you several days ago. A dear little child has joined the angels. I dressed him and helped to make his casket. There is no minister in this whole country and I could not bear the little broken lily-bud to be just carted away and buried, so I arranged the funeral and conducted the services. I know I am unworthy and in no way fitted for such a mission, but I did my poor best, and if no one else is comforted, I am. I know the message of God’s love and care has been told once, anyway, to people who have learned to believe more strongly in hell than in heaven.
Dear friend, I do hope that this New Year will bring you and yours fuller joys than you have ever known. If I had all the good gifts in my hands you should certainly be blessed.
Your sincere friend,
Elinore Rupert Stewart.